Aviation and tourism: The economics


This year has been officially dubbed the ‘International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development’ by the UN General Assembly. While the name might be a bit of a mouthful, the aims of the Year are worthwhile. The purpose is to highlight the role of tourism in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The tourism branch of the UN, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is coordinating a call to action from all sectors of the global community, from governments to industry, civil society and academia, with the aim of promoting tourism’s role in five key areas:

  • Inclusive and sustainable economic growth
  • Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction
  • Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change
  • Cultural values, diversity and heritage
  • Mutual understanding, peace and security.

To celebrate the International Year, we’ll be putting out a short series of blogs exploring the relationship between the tourism and aviation industries and how the two can support each other in working towards the SDGs. First, the economic side of things. How do tourism and air transport combine to support ‘inclusive and sustainable economic growth’?

Tourism itself is one of the largest industries in the world. According to World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism supports 284 million jobs and contributed 9.8% of global GDP ($7.2 trillion) in 2015. Out of the 62.7 million jobs supported by the global aviation industry, over 36 million of these are aviation-enabled jobs connected to the tourism industry. In terms of economic activity, over $892 billion out of the total $2.7 trillion supported by aviation is related to tourism. With 54% of all international tourists travelling to their destination by air, it is easy to appreciate how vital air transport is to the tourism industry.

When you break it down to the regional level, the role of aviation becomes even more pronounced in certain areas. For example, in Africa, 5.8 million of the total 6.8 million jobs enabled by aviation are related to tourism. For Small Island States, the figure stands at 1.2 million of the total 1.4 million jobs. In the case of some countries, it is hard to imagine their economies running without the steady flow of tourists flown in by airlines. For example, the Maldives relies on aviation-enabled tourism to support 42% of its economic output. In the case of the Seychelles, the figure in 19% of GDP and in Cape Verde 15%.